Republican and Democratic senators said they are all behind an effort by Sen. Darryl Rouson to make it easier for former addicts to serve as counselors for those dealing with substance abuse problems.
Rouson is sponsoring a bill designed to boost the number of “peer specialists” who can provide help to those being treated for drug and alcohol addiction as well as those who are struggling with mental illness.
SB 282 cleared its second Senate committee Wednesday and has only one more stop before it reaches the full Senate.
The St. Petersburg Democrat is a recovering addict and has pushed similar legislation in years past. That includes the 2021 Legislative Session when a similar bill sailed through the chamber, passing unanimously.
It died in the waning days of the 2021 Session as the House completely ignored the bill.
A companion measure was never even heard in committee. This year, however, the House version is also moving.
Sen. Ray Rodrigues said Wednesday he was “disappointed this bill did not pass last year.”
“We are going to do what we can to get this bill over the finish line this year,” Rodrigues told fellow senators on the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, added that “this is a year we’ve got to pass this bill.”
Rouson was not present at the committee meeting, so the bill was presented by Sen. Shevrin Jones. Rouson tested positive for COVID-19 Friday and is absent from the Capitol. He hopes to be back in Tallahassee Thursday when the Senate meets.
According to a staff analysis, fewer than 700 “peer specialists” currently are certified to work in the state even as Florida, like the rest of the nation, has seen a surge in addictions and overdoses related to the use of opioids.
The legislation would set in place a structure designed to bolster the number of “peer specialists,” including authorizing training programs by the state and making changes to the background screening process.
Several recovering addicts testified Wednesday their past criminal records made it difficult for them to get certified to help those currently dealing with addiction. The bill would extend the time period that someone can seek an exemption to a disqualifying offense and it would also eliminate a handful of charges that currently disqualify someone from working as a peer specialist.
The bill also has the support of the Florida Association of Managing Entities (FAME). Christine Cauffield, the President of FAME and CEO of the Managing Entity in Jacksonville, told Florida Politics the bill is one of its top priorities for the 2022 Session.